It was Michael Eugene Fanning who got to wrap his dirty mitts around that shiny Bell in 2014. This was Mick's 3rd win at Ripcurl Pro, solidifying the fact that he is one of the most dominant surfers to ever compete at Bells Beach. He is now back on track as a contender for the World title.
Next stop Brazil. The first word that comes to mind when I think of Brazil is passion. Along with the combination of black beans and brown rice it is passion that has helped Brazil produce some of the best athletes in the World. They are dominant in so many sports such as football, skateboarding, Martial arts and now surfing.
Who will be victorious at the Billabong Pro in Rio De Janeiro?
Unlike Bells, this event is as unpredictable as the stock market on Wall St. Through my eyes, Brazil is the Achilles heel for most of the tour veterans. They are simply too bloody spoilt with incredible waves on tour. I feel they struggle to find motivation in the junky waves. Yes it can get super fun; there will be days when there are barrels on offer and huge ramps for the air specialists. The fact of the matter is, it's just another unpredictable beach break.
Some of the gents might be chewing on lemons knowing they have to throw their arms in the air, like they are at an Under 18’s dance rave, to get that extra 0.5 from head judge Richie Porter. There will be others rubbing their hands together knowing that junky beach breaks are their forte. Brazil provides an opportunity to gain valuable points, and the chance to hold that big fat $100,000 cheque beneath the arms of Christ The Redeemer.
It’s really hard to go past the Brazilian contingency. Adriano is probably the most passionate surfer on the World tour. Although De Souza has copped a lot of criticism in the past, he pretty much shoved a smelly sock down his critics’ throats with his display of surfing in the last event. He’s not only set on winning in front of his home crowd but also ready for a shot at the World Title.
Gabriel Medina also drinks Passion Pop for breakfast, well maybe not the alcoholic kind, but passion seeps out of this juvenile’s pores. Leading the World tour rankings he knows that the rest of the field is nipping at his heels like shoal of hungry piranhas. After an average performance at Bells, Gabby would love nothing more than be on the podium at Rio getting his pupils singed by cheap champagne.
I am expecting huge things from Philippe Toledo; he is my top 5 to take out the event. He showed maturity at Bells and looks ready to steal some of the limelight from Medina and De Souza. If Toledo listens to his heart and gut instincts, as opposed to everyone back on the beach, he will find his way through heat after heat and I believe he has all the tools to win Rio.
Miguel Pupo is also amazing in funky beach breaks; he recently found his feet and is looking comfortable on tour. Miggy is the silent assassin slipping under the radar of your average surf fan. If the event is held in small lefts, I would be surprised if we don’t see him on the podium at the end of the event.
The Three J's
Despite the strength of the Brazilian contingent, Julian, Jordy and John John are all in my top 5 for this event. Their results at Bells Beach have made them more popular than enchiladas in Mexico amongst world title punters. The triple J’s showed glimpses of brilliance, reasserting why they considered the most exciting surfers on the planet. John John’s 10, Jordy’s 9.93 and Julian making human chop suey out of his competitors on the Bells bowl, they were all ground breaking performances.
I feel going into Brazil they have the upper advantage with a well rounded approach, a good air-game, powerful rail turns and they all know how to navigate their way through the green room. The added bonus for them, coming off a solid result at Bells, means they will be more confident than Usain bolt in a 100m sprint against a bunch of snails.
The last one to round out my top 5 for Brazil is the little plump firecracker from Western Australia - Taj Burrow. TB is always a force to be reckoned with in small beach breaks. Runner up to an in-form Fanning at Bells, Taj was the quiet achiever who sneaked himself in to another final. Taj’s trainer Johnny Gannon, whose lips would rival Angelina Jollies on the set of a Hollywood blockbuster, will be keeping Burrow’s rig in shape with Capoeira and coconuts throughout the event. Teebs is coming in hot and I just have a feeling he is due for a big win.
Having Said That...
As you see, I haven’t mentioned the usual front-runners in this post. I am not saying it isn’t possible; there’s always the chance that Slater will come along yet again and defy all odds, pulling off some triple pike back flip in the dying seconds of the final, to snatch another 100K from the “Bank of ASP”.
But through my eyes, to be victorious in any professional sporting event in Brazil, whether it is Football, Martial Arts, or in this case surfing, having raw talent is just the beginning. Yes it takes drive, discipline, focus, commitment and confidence; however, at the end of a long gruelling event it’s the underlying passion that will secure victory.
Words by Jay Thompson.